How To Overcome Your Gym Anxiety
Let’s talk gym anxiety. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been the “new girl or guy”. We’ve all been that person who was unsure about buying a membership because we had no idea what to expect, or because we were clueless about the right form to hold a plank or how to do a push-up without breaking a shoulder, let alone how on earth we’d be able to get through a workout class. We’ve all been there & it’s normal because we’re human. Novelty is scary.
But, it’s not because gym anxiety exists that it’s impossible to overcome. I did it & you can too. I wont lie or sugarcoat it, you probably won’t enjoy every minute of that first month or two. When I first started working out, there were days I left the gym telling myself I was never going back. The classes were so hard, I could barely make it through the warm up. I remember getting to class early to get the spot at the far back so I could make a run for it smoothly if I felt I couldn’t do it & so I didn’t have to stare at myself in the mirror.
Today, I get to the gym early to claim my spin bike at the front of the room & save my spot for weight training right in front of the mirror. Today, the place that scared me & made me anxious a little over a year ago is my home away from home, the people I met are like family & I became so passionate about fitness that I’m pursuing my certification to become a fitness instructor!
I bet you’re wondering… how on earth did I get here? Let me explain!
Don’t compare yourself, your progress, abilities, success, challenges or obstacles to others. Focus on you & your workout.
My favourite trainer once said something that stuck with me until today. “Don’t look at your neighbour. Who cares what she’s doing. Listen to your body & focus on you”.
When I first started working out, I inadvertently always found myself comparing my body & abilities (or lack thereof), to other women in my classes. I wondered how everyone was able to be so consistent, keep up with the workout & be so good at it, while I was struggling. Overtime, I realized that comparing myself to others was counterproductive because it was just making me feel badly about myself, like I wasn’t good enough & the self-doubt made it harder for me to stay motivated.
When I changed my approach & focused on my progress, my abilities & my success. I began comparing myself to myself. What I mean by that is I started to track my progress, mentally & physically. I progressively not only saw my body changing & getting stronger & my mental & emotional stability come back, but I also began to feel stronger in all aspects of my life.
Always remember: EVERYONE started somewhere. You don’t have to start out being the strongest or most fit in the room. Nobody does. You just have to START.
There will be moments where you doubt why you started, but if you push through them, YOU CAN & WILL OVERCOME IT.
Every single person had their first day back at the gym after a break or vacation. Everyone tried the class for the first time & had to ease into it. Everyone got stronger OVER TIME & you will too. In changing my approach, I became more confident in my abilities. I realized I was stronger than I thought & more capable than I imagined. I began to see my progress because I wasn’t blinded or putting myself down by comparing my success to the successes or abilities of others. I learned to strive for my own success & to monitor my own progress, and that how hard I’m able to go & the pace at which I progressively get stronger is in nobody else’s hands but mine.
Put it this way: if the woman next to you is going harder than you, looks stronger or knows the workout routine better, watching her & wishing it were you will bring you nowhere. Instead, go as hard as YOU FEEL YOU CAN, watch YOURSELF get stronger, & GET TO KNOW THE ROUTINE because of how consistent you become. These are all things you have control over, that will bring you SOMEWHERE, make you proud & ultimately, give you the satisfaction & gratification you’re looking for.
All this to say, no two people have the same abilities or strength, have overcome the same obstacles or have the same body. Don’t strive to be the girl next to you, or the one behind you, STRIVE TO BE THE BEST YOU. Focus on you & give it your all.
Don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Only you know your limits. Respect them & respect your body.
In the same way that no two bodies have the same abilities, no two bodies have the same limits either. You may have certain limits one day & not have them the next. You may have had a hectic day at work or with your kids, you may be in a shitty mood or not feeling your best. But, you may also walk into the class feeling like superwoman. You are human. Some days will be better than others & some will be worse. Embrace both. On the bad days, listen to your body. On the good days, push yourself & use all the energy and strength you have & invest it into your workout.
When you push yourself beyond your limits, your body will eventually burn out. Not only will it burn out, but you’ll begin to associate working out with negative feelings & behaviours. You’ll teach your mind to hate it because you’ll anticipate suffering, as opposed to anticipating happiness, strength & energy. Ultimately, you want working out to be something you look forward to & that’s rewarding & that you feel you can do. As human beings, when we feel we can’t do something, it can go one of two ways:
We can push ourselves to try so hard until we realize we just can’t take it anymore & then we give up OR we can get discouraged & stop without even trying. EITHER WAY, the end result is the same: NO WORK. NO RESULTS.
As opposed to pushing yourself harder than you physically & mentally can, like anything in life, ease into it. Trust me, I speak from first hand experience when I say that in a few months from now, you’ll be looking back on what your limits were back then, and you’ll realize that with all the progress you made & strength you gained, those limits are now your abilities. IT TAKES TIME. But you’ll get there. And there is nothing that matters more than respecting your limits & your body – It truly is the only way to get there.
Set realistic, attainable goals that won’t discourage & demotivate you. Don’t adopt the “all-in” approach. Adopt the “baby steps” one.
This applies to all walks of life, whether it be weight loss, a new relationship or a new job. We all like a good challenge. We all want success & accomplishment. We want to feel proud & we want gratification and satisfaction. In order to attain all those things, we set goals.
All that is good & great until the ambition, desire for challenge, success & achievement gets the best of you, makes you lose sight of yourself and your goals & forces you into striving for perfection & unrealistic goals. Don’t let your ambition get to your head to the point where it forces you to set unrealistic standards for yourself. While those goals may seem fun, or even realistic at first, over time, they are counterproductive. When we feel like something is unattainable, unrealistic & even, impossible, we get down on ourselves. It affects us mentally because we feel like we just can’t do it. When we feel that way, we often opt for the easy way out abandonment.
The better (& right) approach is to set small, realistic, attainable goals & focus on increasing healthy behaviours OVERALL. These still lead us to the success, challenge, ambition, accomplishment, pride & gratification we’re looking for. And what’s more is that they ALSO give us the motivation & determination to keep at it. We see progress & results & with that, we want to do & accomplish more. Unrealistic goals are hardly ever attainable & if they are, odds are, we end up pushing ourselves beyond our limits to fight for something that’ll ultimately make us hate it.
There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow & allowing your body & mind to ease into the idea of incorporating exercise into your life. If anything, easing into it & taking baby steps is what’ll allow you to make it a lifestyle, as opposed to a “fad”, or a “trend” that you stay committed to for a few weeks or months & then abandon because you just aren’t seeing results. (I mean, HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO IF YOUR GOAL IS TO GET A SIX-PACK IN A MONTH?). Ya feel me?
Learn the basics on your own & let yourself ease into it
- Watch Youtube or Instagram videos so that you walk into a class for the first time feeling a bit more confident about how to hold certain exercises. This way, you won’t be so focused on performance anxiety & you’ll be able to put all your mental & physical strength into getting through the workout to the best of your ability.
- Practice at home with a family member or friend to get comfortable so that you don’t feel as anxious when you’re in public.
- Start by going to the quieter classes so you can work out with less people around while you get comfortable. Going to classes that are less packed is also a great opportunity for you to get more one-on-one time with the trainer & to ask questions about form.
- Start out by using the women’s only section in the beginning. If your gym has a women’s only section & you’re not attending classes but you’re doing your own thing at the gym, use it if you feel intimidated around men. This way, you can get the hang of your workouts there & then go into the gym when you feel ready.
Get a gym buddy
It can be your best friend, sister, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend or even someone you meet at the gym who’s on a similar journey with you! This will not only make going to the gym less intimidating, but it can also make it more fun, motivating & keep you accountable.
Feel good, confident & comfortable in your workout clothes
Feeling comfortable & confident in my workout clothes makes my workout even more effective & efficient because I’m able to fully focus on my workout as opposed to being distracted or bothered by clothes that are too tight, loose or not supportive.
Don’t just dress for the gym to fit the part or to impress anyone. Dress to fit YOUR PART & TO IMPRESS YOURSELF WITH YOUR PERFORMANCE. If that means wearing shorts, loose sweats, leggings, tees, sports bras, tight tanks, whatever it means, WEAR IT & ROCK IT.
For me, some days, comfy means leggings, a sports bra & fitted tank. Other days, it means a looser sports bra & a slinky tank & sometimes, it means a fitted hoodie or long sleeve! But one thing is for certain, it always means something I feel GREAT in, whether it’s a good body image day or a less great one!
Here are a few reasons why being comfortable in your workout clothes can change your workout for the better:
- Feeling good in your workout clothes boosts confidence not only in yourself but in your ability to kill your workout! If you believe the clothing you’re wearing is going to help you perform better, it actually will! And this holds true for anything in life. When you believe in something very strongly, you end up living & breathing it! It’s psychological, but trust me, it’s true! Think about it: If you get to the gym in an outfit that you don’t feel good in, that’s riding or falling in all the wrong places, it’s hard to believe you’ll go into your workout with the perspective that those clothes will help you perform better. But, if you go into your workout in clothes you feel great in & that you feel ready & able to tackle your sweat sesh in, odds are you’ll begin to believe it & you’ll KILL IT! In fact, research has actually shown that clothing influences behaviour & attitude because it carries a symbolic meaning. What we wear subconsciously change the way we act & triggers mental changes that positively affect performance & confidence levels. This phenomenon is called enclothed cognition & basically entails that when you feel good in what you’re wearing, you feel more confident, which in turn, helps boost performance.
- What you wear not only affects your performance from a psychological perspective, but also from a physical one! The right workout clothes & shoes for the workout you’re about to tackle have the power to help you get the most out of your workout, for example: if you’re going to be doing a workout that entails a variety of exercises, some of which include impact & jumping (squats, lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, etc.), you’ll want to go for a pair of shoes that has a lot of support, good grip, the ability to absorb shock & add stability & most certainly not a shoe that you don’t feel secure in & that doesn’t lock your foot in.
- Wearing clothing actually designed for exercise & that you feel comfy in means you won’t feel restricted. Exercising in total comfort helps you solely concentrate on the task at hand: getting through your workout to the best of your ability! If you’re constantly having to adjust your clothing because it’s not giving you full range of motion, you can be sure you’ll be distracted & some of your focus will be diverted from the workout to checking yourself out in the mirror & making sure everything is in place.
- And last but not least, let’s be honest… A FREAKING CUTE AF NEW WORKOUT OUTFIT IS PRETTY MOTIVATING, #AMIRIGHT?
In my experience, aside from all the tips I mentioned, the best way to overcome your gym anxiety is to FACE IT. As obvious as it sounds, the only way to face it is to GO anyway. Even if you’re anxious. Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Even if you’re afraid or uncertain & even if you doubt your abilities. Sometimes, we need to face the things that scare us most HEAD STRONG to see how much strength we really have!